Robert Novak

Bond joined with Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the tenaciously partisan Democratic whip, to explode the Bush budget. Bond and Reid found five principal co-sponsors, ranging from Oklahoma's Republican James Inhofe on the Right to Washington's Patty Murray on the Left and including the Senate's inimitable King of Pork, Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

They added $49 billion for highways and $12.5 billion for mass transit over six years. When the budget reached the Senate floor, the Bond-Reid proposal had more than 70 co-sponsors. The only wonder is that the subsequent 79 to 21 vote for approval was not even larger.

George W. Bush holds few cards in this game. If he can trim highway and transit spending significantly in the Senate-House budget conference, he figures to win only a Pyrrhic victory. Assuming that Bond meant what he said, Republican defections in the closely held Senate would defeat the budget resolution -- and, with it, chances for tax cuts. The alternative is to give a spending green light to a Republican-controlled Congress that is no less addicted to pork than its Democratic predecessor.

Bush might have been well advised to try talking his friend and supporter Kit Bond into tightening his highway belt, but war presidents seldom find much time for domestic arm-twisting. One who did was Lyndon Johnson. The LBJ tapes show that the president who personally selected Vietnamese bombing targets also was constantly on the telephone to Capitol Hill, pleading and cajoling.

It did not do much good, however. Johnson had fought the internecine struggle from both ends of Pennsylvania Ave., and knew the inbred desire of Congress to override a president. When war comes, it is business as usual for lawmakers to take advantage of a preoccupied chief executive, and they are just acting naturally today.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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